Strike Derails Lacrosse Team's Ticket Drive

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A players' strike appears to have clipped the Philadelphia Wings' direct mail effort to sell season tickets.


The National Lacrosse League team is looking to end the erosion of its season-ticket base in recent years.


"We were looking to sell 1,000 new season tickets this year," said Jennifer Stefani, the team's director of lacrosse operations. "We're being so aggressive because we've been losing about 200 season-ticket holders per year over the past five years. We had 7,000 season-ticket holders as recently as 1997."


Playing in the city's Wachovia Center, which can accommodate 19,600 fans for lacrosse, the team averaged 14,367 fans per game for its eight home dates last year. It had 6,067 season tickets sold last season that were part of 1,900 accounts.


Totals updated Jan. 13 revealed that the campaign had generated 618 new full season tickets sold.


"We expect to realistically do another 100 leading up to the start of the season," she said. The team opened the season on the road Dec. 27. The home opener was Jan. 17.


"We're disappointed that we won't reach 1,000, but the three-week players' strike before the start of the season in December hurt the effort," she said. "They settled the strike one week before the start of the season, but there were no player appearances and there was no promotion that we would normally do in December. And we had to cancel the season-ticket-holder party. We would have gotten a little closer [to the goal of 1,000] if it were not for the strike."


The 26,000 recipients of the direct mail piece, who live in metropolitan Philadelphia as well as southern New Jersey and northern Delaware, included:


· About 14,000 fans who bought single-game tickets and partial season-ticket plans last year.


· People who provided their names via various grass-roots marketing. The group of 5,000 includes children who play the sport along with their parents and coaches.


· About 7,000 people who provided their names through various contests such as those that occur during events at the Wachovia Center.


"We felt our budget was best targeted to qualified lists as opposed to cold calls and purchased lists," said Stefani, who added that the league's average annual player salary is $15,000.


Its annual direct mail campaign is augmented this year by an enhanced telemarketing effort in which all 26,000 mail recipients will get a follow-up call.


"The follow-up phone campaign has not been sufficient in the past to support the mailing," she said. "For the first time, phone support this year will involve follow-up telemarketing to everyone who got the mailing. It had been done with very limited capacity in the past when we contacted only 10 to 15 percent of recipients. We were devoting much of the follow-up effort to just chasing renewals up until the last minute."


Crucial to allowing for complete follow-up by arena owner Comcast Spectacor -- which serves as the team's marketing and sales partner -- was the piece's mail date. For the 2003 season they went out in November 2002. Promotion of the 2004 season was done via a mailing during the week of Oct. 13, 2003.


"This year we sent out our prospecting and renewal pieces for season tickets a month earlier, which allows more time for follow-up on both," she said.


Telemarketing follow-up for the prospecting effort involves calls by five full-time representatives and two part-time workers. Their work was to continue through mid-January. The home schedule runs from January through March.


The team said that reps did not refer to the strike in calls and did not mention that the strike was over in trying to persuade fans to buy season tickets.


Per-piece cost of postage for the season-ticket prospecting mailer was 19 cents. Printing expense was $2,800 while the design cost was $200.


The two-panel piece has stayed creatively consistent in recent years. "THE GREATEST SAVE YOU'LL MAKE THIS SEASON!" appears across the bottom. Stefani said it's a reference to ticket prices being unchanged for the third consecutive season. "GREAT SAVINGS OFF INDIVIDUAL GAME PRICES ... MINIMAL COMMITMENT ... 8 GAMES OF ACTION AS LOW AS $120!" appears across the top of the piece when opened.


The team's home schedule, a price chart for four types of tickets and a seating chart appear along with a small photo of a woman riding a mechanical bull. The photo appears under "THE WINGS EXPERIENCE," which mentions the Broad Street Bash. It is described as a "pre-game party with live bands, mechanical bull, interactive games and celebrity appearances!"


A survey of season-ticket holders last year revealed they were 64.2 percent male. Age ranges were: 18-24 (4.8 percent); 25-34 (32.1 percent); 35-44 (35.8 percent); 45-54 (19.8 percent) and 55 or older (7.5 percent). Average annual incomes were: under $25,000 (3.4 percent); $25,000-$49,999 (22.9 percent); $50,000-$74,999 (27.8 percent); $75,000-$99,999 (18 percent); $100,000-$199,999 (20.9 percent); and $200,000 or more (7 percent).


"A lot of season-ticket holders are families with one or more kids who play lacrosse," Stefani said.


The price chart contains prices for the "Wings Sampler," which covers four games, as well as full-season prices of $192 (lower level), $160 (center mezzanine) and $120 (end mezzanine). Club seats for the season are priced at $248.


Season-ticket holders generate an average of about $180 per person, not including club seat sales. Club and lower-level seats make up 85 percent to 88 percent of season-ticket sales.


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